“We’ve been living with this project for almost a decade,” reveals Susan Downey in an exclusive panel interview with Gold Derby about rebooting “Perry Mason” for HBO (watch the video above). Developed as a film before pivoting to a miniseries format, what ultimately became an ongoing drama series aired its first season on HBO last year with Matthew Rhys in the eponymous role. He replaced Downey’s husband Robert Downey Jr., who shifted solely to an executive producer role as a result of “scheduling issues.”
Downey explains opposite fellow executive producers Amanda Burrell and Tim Van Patten, “By the time we had a couple of the episodes, HBO was getting really excited and we were trying to figure out, ‘Okay, we don’t want to lose that excitement and that momentum’ and Robert, as most people know, has been also busy for the past decade doing some movies and stuff and so, sure, is there a point where we could have put it on a shelf and waited for him? Yeah, but this was great. The story was so rich, the characters were strong, the world we were building — all of it was too exciting to stop that momentum.” Downey laughs as she continues, “We never looked back and I look forward to other scheduling issues.”
The lead director for “Perry Mason,” Van Patten is a 16-time Emmy Award nominee and two-time winner, all for HBO programs. He was first nominated in 2001 and was prone to racking up multiple bids, but has not been nominated as a director since 2015, which was actually the last time that he appeared on the ballot (with the “Boardwalk Empire” series finale). He reveals about his hiatus, “I had finished ‘Boardwalk’ and had a bilateral double hip replacement for starters and then some family situations that happened and I was burnt out. I needed to take a break for a few minutes, learn to walk again and get my spirit back.”
When “Perry Mason” resumes production hopefully by the end of the year, it will be with Jack Amiel and Michael Begler taking over as showrunners. Burrell explains about switching out previous head writers Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald, “Honestly, they told a beautiful story. Season two, we have more story to tell. We found new collaborators that we’re really excited about. Freshness can help and be great.”
HBO announced another departure this spring in actress Tatiana Maslany. “Honestly, the plan for season one was that was a closed-ended story,” explains Downey, who laughs that earlier reports that leaned to the contrary were a quirk of when “you’re doing press with someone.” She elaborates, “You’re so in love with what you’ve done and the people that you’ve worked with, you go on this, ‘Of course we’ll figure it out,’ but honestly, nothing changed other than stuck with what the original plan was.”
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